Listening is a critical skill for practitioners working with young people and while sometimes misrepresented as a passive activity, it demands full attention and a capacity for the practitioner to ‘listen well.’ Practitioners have to stay attuned to the young person through listening and participating in the conversation and at the same time be sensitive to their needs and keep the space open for further communication. For example, sitting with a client in silence may be of great assistance and leave room for conversation but they can be awkward and uncomfortable. Striking the right balance is an important aspect of listening well.
Substance use can be one way for young people to tolerate difficult and painful feelings associated with grief (Bruun and Mitchell, 2012). This is especially relevant in response to an unexpected loss. Practitioners should be alert to the possibility of ‘grief talk’ in all their interactions with young people and families. By creating a space for young people and families to share their experiences and be listened to, practitioners position themselves to better understand and explore the impact of significant loss in the lives of their clients.
Young people need to feel able to talk about grief. Events like the recent death of a friend or loved one might already be known but This positions practitioners to receive disclosures about previously unknown losses that are troubling young people. Grief might be a response to a historical event with a meaning that is less immediately obvious.
It is crucial to create the conditions in which young people feel comfortable to share their story. Formal settings where client and practitioner are meeting for the purpose of counseling can deliver this result but some young people find it hard to discuss difficult issues at predetermined appointment times.
Youth AOD services have the advantage of multiple service modalities such as outreach, residential services and day programs that don’t solely rely on appointment-based counseling. Young people can find it easier to talk while walking or when engaged in some form of activity. This might involve a practitioner having a discussion with a young person who is drawing orbeing opportunistic in a day program or residential unit, talking with a young person while preparing a meal and listening for ‘grief talk’.Many practitioners report receiving disclosures from clients while sitting alongside them in a car and driving. The choice of activity will depend on a young person’s preference and the practitioner should always be prepared to respond but will need to decide on the appropriateness of the setting for therapeutic conversation.
A2. Person-centred guiding and active listening
Person-centred guiding and active listening is the preferred way of communicating in motivational interviewing which uses four key communication skills: Open questions; Affirming statements, Reflections; and Summaries (OARS). It is a style that can assist young people to tell their story while enabling the practitioner to demonstrate sensitive to their needs and to keep the space open for further communication.
Solutions Focused Therapy suggests that a collaborative stance be established between practitioner and client to promote exploration of issues. Solutions Focused Therapy refers to this as the ‘non-expert’ position.
E1. Attentive Listening
Drawn from Narrative Therapy, attentive listening is a way of tracking and hearing a young person’s story. The practitioner stays closely aligned with the language being used by the young person and contributes carefully in a way that opens up further dialogue. Being curious is one way of opening further exploration and discussion and permits the young person to more fully express their experience.
E2. Hearing the client's story
Narrative Therapy encourages practitioners to adopt a therapeutic stance that is ‘de-centered’, allowing a fuller and richer account of the young person’s experience the space to emerge.
This practice encourages the hearing of a young person’s account in a full and rich manner. The language, values and meanings that are conveyed in the young person’s story are considered in Narrative Therapy to be crucial and lead to further conversations that may highlight previously underemphasized skills, practices and knowledge that the young person may have about themselves.
This is applicable for practitioners seeking to understand and explore the meaning that clients attribute to los. Significant values and beliefs that are of importance to the young person may then by researched and expanded. This can contribute to new information being discovered and bought forward that can then be explored further.
Validation can be a useful practice element for demonstrating acceptance and acknowledgement of a young person. In circumstances where substance use or other behaviours are potentially external expressions of grief, validation can assist to reduce the emotional arousal, provide reinforcement and model self-validation.